LA Times' Film Critic Justin Chang and Film Reporter Jen Yamato debate 'Ghost in the Shell' and the dangers of Hollywood Whitewashing

AC Team

April 6, 2017

Los Angeles

LA TIMES JUSTIN CHANG AND JEN YAMATO ON WHITEWASHING ASIAN ROLES IN HOLLYWOOD MOVIES 2017-04-06What does the current crop of film and TV shows accused of whitewashing Asian roles say about Hollywood’s ongoing diversity crisis?

L.A. Times film critic Justin Chang and film reporter Jen Yamato sat down to discuss the latest example of the issue - Scarlett Johansson’s casting as a futuristic cybernetic cop in Paramount’s “Ghost in the Shell,” adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name.

View video excerpts and Read the entire conversation at LA Times.com Excerpts below:

Justin Chang: "Hello, I'm Justin Chang, Film Critic for the Los Angeles Times and I'm with my Times colleague film reporter Jen Yamato. We're talking about "Ghost in the Shell" and the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the main character and how that fits into this ongoing problem we've seen of Hollywood whitewashing of Asian roles and Asian stories in cinema."

Jen Yamato: "This is certainly the biggest studio product to so blatantly whitewash out any sort of semblance of Asian identity from a source material. But its not alone. We're in a sort of renaissance period of whitewashing in Hollywood. We had Marvels' "Doctor Strange" attacked for, and rightfully so, for playing..."

Justin: "a Tibetan mystic."

Jen: ..."a male Tibetan. We're coming off Matt Damon and "The Great Wall" saving Ancient China." 

Justin: "There's "Iron Fist" as well, in the Netflix television realm, that's a Marvel property as well. ...It seems especially egregious in the case of "Ghost In the Shell" - a movie I hasten to add that, we talked about this Jen. I liked this more than you, despite its many, many flaws."

Jen: "I forgive you. That's fine." 

Justin: "But at the same time...I do like Scarlett Johansson's performance in it, despite the massively problematic nature of her casting as the Major, but in fact her original character in the graphic novel, films and tv shows is Mayor Motoko Kusanagi."

Jen: "A Japanese woman. Clearly."  CLICK HERE FOR MORE

Justin: "A Japanese woman - machine - crime-fighting cyborg."

Jen: "Yes." "I mean she's a terrorist fighting cybercop. She's a robocop basically, who's been designed - her body and her face have been optimally designed in the form of some beauty and functional ideal by scientists. But she has a pesky brain, and it so happens + spoiler - her original identity is that of a Japanese woman. That's what the movie tells us at the end." 

Justin: "And in a flash back we ever so briefly catch a glimpse of this Japanese young woman that she used to be, although we don't even see her face, she's just sort of...."

Jen: "That's how insulting this movie is. You don't get to see the actual actress of Japanese descent who plays her original self."

Justin: "So what the filmmakers' have effectively done here is create a loophole for themselves within the narrative used the fluidity and identity, and the whole kind of man versus mankind versus machine kind of binary to, sort of...get away with this...or try to get away with this."

Jen: "They were hoping so hard obviously that they could get away with it without being scrutinized. However, like nobody - none of the filmmakers, none of the producers, or even Scarlett Johansson herself who defended this, this role by saying that her character is essentially identify-less. Well, that's not really true is it."

Justin: "How do you feel Jen about the handling of this is another thing. because I feel that like, even though there was such a controversy over "Doctor Strange" - We're in this era now where these controversies erupt before the movie is ever seen, the minute casting is announced. You yourself interviewed, the director of "Doctor Strange" Scott Derrckson who I found realy refreshingly thoughtful and uncharacterisically thoughtful, and honest about the difficulties that he faced. You have to give hiim credit for that." "Here though with Paramount and with "The Ghost In the Shell' - everyone is just I feel - its just been a little cringe-inducing, whatever you think of the movie."

Jen: :Yeah - you are really seeing Hollywood's white privilege come out in full force as people have been very defensive about the creative choices that they've made without taking responsibility for the cultural ramifications of those choices. You have an entire flmmaker, sort of crew, at least the above-the-line talent, all white men making a decision defending it, and defending Scarlett Johanssen's casting by saying that box office demand warrants casting a white star."

Justin: "...and the fact that the movie has underperformed commercially of course calls in question of what the purpose of all this is to begin with. I don't think the debate is over by a long shot. There are more movies to come that will have this problem as well. But, yeah, we will keep an eye on it." For more stories and coverage of this issue and others in Hollywood please visit LATimes.com

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Los Angeles Times - April 1, 2017

LA TIMES - by Gerrick D. Kennedy - Asian American Media Group condemns Scarlett Johansson in "Ghost in the Shell' controversy.